NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cost of Enforcing Endangered Species Act

April 15, 2004

It costs billions of dollars a year to enforce the Endangered Species Act, but the ESA does little to protect species, according to a report from the Property and Environment Research Center, which conducted the study for the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Based on a review of 19 federal agencies that spend "significant" amounts to comply with the act and found that salaries, operations, maintenance and services associated with enforcing the ESA, researchers found that:

  • The last report filed by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in December estimates $610 million was spent on ESA enforcement in 2000, but the study says the actual cost is closer to four times that amount -- or $3 billion annually.
  • Fifty percent of reported expenditures are for seven species, just 0.6 percent of the ESA list, the report says.
  • As of February, 1,260 species were officially threatened or endangered, but only a dozen species have been "recovered" and removed from the list since it was created 30 years ago as part of the government act.

These figures include the economic impact of the Endangered Species Act, which is not reported to Congress. Among the examples in the report:

  • Federal efforts and regulations to protect the habitat of the California gnatcatcher bird impose economic costs of $300 million a year, not counting a one-year delay on construction of a high school, costing an additional $1 million locally.
  • Farmers in the Klamath Basin of Oregon lost nearly $54 million in crops in 2001 when irrigation water was shut off to protect the shortnose sucker and coho salmon.

Also missing from government estimates, says the report, is money spent on protecting species in foreign countries -- 517 foreign endangered species and 41 foreign threatened species from African elephants to Corsican swallowtail butterflies.

Source: Audrey Hudson, "Report Pegs Cost of Species Protection in Billions," Washington Times, April 15, 2004; based on Randy T. Simmons and Kimberly Frost, " Accounting for Species: The True Costs of the Endangered Species Act," April 2004, Property and Environment Research Center.

For PERC report


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